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Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

The Role of the Poet: An Interview with Solmaz Sharif

July 27, 2016 | by

In 2014, I heard Solmaz Sharif read “Look,” the title poem from her debut collectionLook inserts military terminology into intimate scenes between lovers, refashioning hollow, bureaucratic language from the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms with a human touch. (Even the collection’s title has an alternate military meaning: per the Department of Defense, a look means “a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of influence.”) At a time when the U.S. automates acts of murder, Sharif insists that war is still personal—perhaps today more than ever. In one of its most quoted passages, she writes, “Daily I sit / with the language / they’ve made / of our language / to NEUTRALIZE / the CAPABILITY OF LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS / like you.” 

By simply placing words from the Defense dictionary in small caps, and deploying them in scenes of intimacy,” John Freeman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Sharif has begun the process of renaturing them, putting them in the readers’ hands for examination.” Look confirms what I’ve known since 2014: Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East. I spoke with her about her influences, the role of the poet in today’s world, and the stories behind Look.

INTERVIEWER

In an essay you wrote for the Kenyon Review, you said, “When I am asked to describe my poetry on airplane flights, at dinner parties, I describe it first as ‘political.’ Then, ‘documentary.’ And these two things seem to, for some, preclude aesthetic rigor.” There’s a popular conception that overtly political can’t have aesthetic value—that a political message degrades the aesthetics. Is your work a deliberate effort to rebut this notion? Read More »

Gene Smith’s Sink

November 11, 2015 | by

Larry Clark and W. Eugene Smith, ca. 1962.

Larry Clark and W. Eugene Smith, ca. 1962.

I was working on a book and an exhibition about W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh photographs in 1998 when I learned about his voluminous, inexplicable, irresistible collection of reel-to-reel tapes. I’d found them in his archive at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) in Tucson, Arizona. There are 1,740 of them, made roughly between 1957 and 1965 inside the loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. The simple task of counting and numbering the dusty tapes took me two weeks. It was several years—it would require a great deal of fund-raising to preserve the tapes properly—before I could listen to them.

In 1999, still not having heard the tapes, I wrote an article about Smith’s loft work for DoubleTake magazine. The article was based on his photographs and some thirty interviews I’d conducted with jazz musicians I had identified in his photos or from his chicken-scratched tape labels or who I’d learned about via word of mouth. A man named David Logan, then in his eighties, was on his treadmill in Chicago when he saw me talking about the story on CBS Sunday Morning. He impulsively called Vicki Goldberg, the venerable New York Times photography critic, who had no idea who I was. She suggested he call CCP. Read More »

Big, Bent Ears, Epilogue: We’re Not Actually Here

October 14, 2015 | by

Joseph Mitchell amid the wreckage of Lower Manhattan.

Joseph Mitchell amid the wreckage of Lower Manhattan.

Big, Bent Ears,” our ten-chapter multimedia series with Rock Fish Stew, has come to a close. Over the past seven months, this “serial in documentary uncertainty” has enfolded a host of writers, artists, and musicians, including Joseph Mitchell, Jonny Greenwood, tUnE-yArDs, Sally Mann, Cormac McCarthy, Grouper, Nazoranai, Matthias Pintscher, Tyondai Braxton, the JACK Quartet, Swans, Tacita Dean, and Cy Twombly, as well as artists of a different stripe: a family of piano tuners, a chef, a translator, and, of course, a documentary team. There were also multiple audiences, an earthquake, strangers on a train, and the city of Knoxville.

We’ll leave you with an epilogue in which Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss return to Mitchell’s midcentury chronicles of New York City and sift one more time through his collected objects. This postscript is also an introduction to a filmed interview with Laurie Anderson, whose comments typify the spirit of uncertainty that binds the series.

 Read the epilogue here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 10: Surrender to the Situation, Part 3

September 23, 2015 | by

David and Julia on the Carolinian 80. Photo by Ivan Weiss.

David and Julia on the Carolinian 80. Photo by Ivan Weiss.

In his prose poem “Rounding Off to the Nearest Zero,” Albert Mobilio writes that “Driving, or at least driving alone, is, I’ve always found, conducive to thinking. The sense of forward motion, the calf’s calibrated flexing, the purposeful grip of the wheel combine, it seems, to concentrate the mind.” Trains have this effect, too: their linear haste through the landscape makes thoughts unspool. The final three chapters of “Big, Bent Ears”—including the latest, Chapter 10—follow the trajectory of the Carolinian 80 as it wends from Durham to New York, and its motion drew Ivan Weiss into a web of associations between the sounds and processes of Tyondai Braxton and of Oren Ambarchi as well as those with whom they collaborate. This new chapter revels in sensory confusion—rhythms that are seen, memories that are sonic, tables that make music—and in the comfort that can be found in music:

I’d walk into a room and be invisible, and music was always the thing that calmed the noise. It was where I found solace. I would go to sleep with the radio next to me and wake up with the radio next to me. Before my eyes would open, my hands would flick the on switch.

The chapter opens with David and Julia, pictured above—strangers who meet on the Carolinian 80 and whose conversation is loosed by the lull of travel. Their exchange, like the rest of the installment, recalls Joseph Mitchell’s lines from our first chapter: 

The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

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Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 9: Surrender to the Situation, Part 2

September 16, 2015 | by

Photo: Ivan Weiss

Photo: Ivan Weiss

 

When I was going to school for classical music … I had about a month to get … my reading together. But I still learn by ear a lot faster. I can feel what I need to do. You can’t write out all those subtleties. I have to hear it, and then take it inside. I have to have the sound in my head, and then go for that.

Chapter nine of “Big, Bent Ears” considers what it means when the most reliable part of a musical performance isn’t the instruments or the score or even the musicians themselves, but their intuition. I don’t mean aptitude or talent; I mean that unknowable knowledge, that abstract certitude that the path you’re headed down is right. Our case study is the three-person percussion ensemble of  Tyondai Braxton’s HIVE project. Braxton’s minimal instructions—“Be still. Don’t look around. Just play.”—leave ample space for his percussionists to be shaped and guided by sound.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

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Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 8: Surrender to the Situation, Part 1

September 9, 2015 | by

HIVE-BBE_Image-12

Photo: Ivan Weiss

Oren Ambarchi and Tyondai Braxton lead parallel lives in the world of experimental music. Ambarchi, an avid collaborator and one-third of the noise trio Nazoranai, played at Big Ears in 2014. Braxton, who has composed both avant-rock and classical music, played at Big Ears 2015. Ambarchi performs solo on guitar amid a nest of synths. Braxton’s latest project is an installation called HIVE, in which five percussionists and musicians playing modular synths sits atop honeycombed pods. Ambarchi and Braxton both play music that is durational and unpredictable, that depends upon instruments and sonic forms that are, as Ambarchi says, “inherently out of control.” Braxton calls it “impossible, beautiful music.”

Good documentary work is a form of barely controlled chaos, too. Opportunities can’t be forced or planned; once the work begins, scripts and proposals mean very little. Documentary process is one of experimentation—determined listening and watching and patience allow strange symmetries and unlikely affinities to emerge. There’s a reason we’re calling “Big, Bent Ears” a “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” In the last three chapters of the series—beginning here, in chapter eight—Ivan Weiss and Sam Stephenson do as Ambarchi and Braxton do: they surrender to the situation.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.